Many parents want their children to learn an instrument, and why not? Studies have shown that weekly music lessons can increase a child’s IQ. Some don’t know when their child should begin though. At what age is a child ready for such a commitment? I’ve had parents surprised to hear that their child is too young for one instrument, yet they could have started another instrument years before.
Still, it’s not always as simple as reaching a certain age. General guidelines can help you decide if your child is ready to start music lessons. Let’s consider a couple of them here, then we’ll give you approximate ages for when a child is ready to begin lessons for popular instruments.
Desire Learning a skill comes easier to those who want to learn it. Age or subject matter doesn’t change that. So if your child has great interest in learning the piano or guitar, they’re much more likely to meet the other requirements listed here.
Focus Some children focus better than others, and focus is crucial when it comes to music lessons. Your child will need to remain focused for a ½ hour lesson once a week in addition to 15 minute practice sessions daily. Even this can be a long time though. Observe your child to see how well they focus on other activities before scheduling their first lesson.
Physical Ability While physical limitations should not stop a student from enjoying music, some kids are too young to hold an instrument properly or find an instrument in their size. If, for example, your child wants to learn the drums but can’t keep a sturdy grip on the sticks, they’d be better off waiting until they can.
Resources Music lessons for students of any age require a fair amount of time and money. Even if your child wants to start with a low-cost instrument for ½ hour lessons, they will still be expected to practice at home for regular intervals, and purchase sheet music along the way. Also remember that kids will grow out of some instruments, so new ones will need to be rented or purchased as they grow. It’s worth taking the time to decide if you and your child are prepared to use these resources.
If you feel confident your child has the desire, focus, physicality, and resources to start music lessons, then scan the list below to find the instrument they’re interested in and the age we recommend they start. Keep in mind individual teachers may have different age guidelines, so feel free to ask if you are uncertain.
Piano, 5 years old Violin, Viola, Cello, 4-5 years old Guitar, 5-6 years old Ukulele, 4-5 years old Drums, 5-7 years old Voice, 8-9 years old Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, 7-8 years old Trumpet, Trombone, 8 years old
And remember: your child will never be too old to start music lessons. If your child doesn’t begin studying an instrument until it’s offered at their school or until they’re in middle or high school, they still can reap the benefits of music education. However, they can be too young for certain instruments. Band and orchestra instruments may need to wait until your child is seven or eight years old, but solo instruments like piano or guitar could start earlier. Plus, no matter what instrument they pursue later in life, your child can still get a head start on their music education! Check out our Philly Music Babies class for more.
The word Sonata is certainly one that most people have encountered at some point in their lives. But, what does it really mean? Is it just a song that lasts longer than normal? Does it have to have a piano? These questions are important for listeners, because they introduce a whole new way of hearing music for someone! For performers, understanding the form is essential to an effective interpretation.
In today’s usage, a Sonata is understood to be a piece that follows a set form. When it’s written for one instrument alone, or with piano, it’s usually called a Violin/Cello/Piano/etc Sonata. However, the same structure is also used as the building block for String Quartets, Trios, Sextets, and so on. If you write a piece for an entire orchestra that uses this structure, we use another fancy word: a Symphony. Although the entire work could be referred to as a Sonata, the first movement (and many times the fourth movement as well) normally follows a form historically referred to as Sonata-Allegro form. Here’s a brief overview of what that looks like!
The way a Sonata works is with melodies that move through different keys. More specifically, there is melodic motion from a first, tonic key to the second dominant key (otherwise known as V or five).Assuming that there is no introduction section, the action starts with the aptly named exposition section. A primary theme is presented which establishes the first key (for example, C major). It then uses a transitionto modulate to the dominant key for the secondary theme. ( For example, in the key of C Major, the dominant key is G Major) From there, the music moves into the development section where the material is twisted around until it finds its way back to a repeat of the first section in the original key. This is called the recapitulation. The primary theme is heard again exactly as it was heard before. The music will then make a subtle change to the transition it used before to change keys, but it will reorient itself so that it does not modulate. It’s at this point that the most important moment happens: The secondary theme is played in the original key instead of the dominant key. It’s the dramatic climax of the work, and in the best sonatas, everything leading up to it is oriented toward achieving it.
To more easily describe this, here’s a description of the three distinct sections that make up a sonata: Exposition, Development, andRecapitulation (Recap). There is also an optional fourth section, the Coda, which composers can use to extend the end of the piece for a little bit of a fun, or even to add entirely new interpretive ideas:
The exposition is where the premise of the story is presented. The original key, which is established with the first theme, goes a long way to establishing the mood of the whole piece. As already mentioned, the sonata then transitions to a second theme in the dominant key. This move to the dominant is important; it marks a journey that the music must take. The satisfaction that the sonata offers is granted by the feeling of moving away from home (the tonic key) and then returning at the end. The way the exposition sets this up determines the effectiveness of everything that follows.
The development is where the composer is allowed to really stretch their skills and show off. The order in which you hear different melodies usually loosely follows the order in which they appeared in the exposition, but they may or may not be recognizable when they are played here. The themes are stretched, pulled, fragmented, and jumbled all together as the composer sees fit.
Where the exposition was about moving from the tonic key to the dominant key, the development is under no such rule. It can travel to any key the composer feels like, and it can arrive there however the composer thinks will be dramatically satisfying. This sometimes means that fragments of the melody cycle through the circle of fifths every measure, or maybe that it moves quickly into a strange, far-away key and stays there for the duration of the section. When composers want to really go crazy, they may even make up a brand new theme that hasn’t been heard before in the piece!
What does all of this mean for interpreting some kind of meaning from the work? The best way to explain it is probably to equate it to the middle story in a trilogy, where your characters are at their darkest points, and the stakes become clear as you prepare for the final ramp up to the climax in the third part. (E.g. The Empire Strikes Back: Han Solo is frozen and given to Jabba the Hut while Luke Skywalker loses his hand and finds out that Darth Vader is his father.)
This graph shows the basic building blocks of Sonata-Allegro from.
Eventually, the development will have to settle down a bit and come back to the primary theme, just like it was heard in the beginning. At this point, you’ve found yourself in the recapitulation, or recap as we might say in modern American English. The recapitulation is very much like a repeat of the exposition, but there is one crucial difference: The secondary theme must cadence in the tonic key, not the dominant. This is how we measure the success or failure of the journey. By achieving a perfect authentic cadence (the strongest kind of harmonic cadence) in the tonic key, the second theme has undergone a transformation. It’s been brought into line with the overall goal of the sonata. It’s almost like coming home from college after graduation; sure, you’re the same person, but you’ve undergone a big process of change that turns you into the mature adult you were always meant to be.
If the cadence is successful, the only thing that’s left to do is continue to play out the remaining music from the exposition, still in the tonic key. You make it to the final bar and feel rightly proud of yourself!
On the other hand: perhaps you weren’t successful. Perhaps the second theme never quite made it to the right key and it just gets left behind as a failure. There’s a lot of interpretive power there that can range from lost hopes and dreams to being forever alone without love. This gives the Sonata a bittersweet or tragic quality, regardless of it being in a major or minor key (here’s looking at you, Brahms).
This is something that becomes more important as you move later on in music history, but the presence of a big coda can also tell you a lot about what the composer is trying to express. Traditionally, the only thing the coda is supposed to do is have a bunch of fun, with redundant cadences to celebrate the success of the journey. It gives a big dramatic finish and reinforces the eighteenth-century Enlightenment ideals that gave birth to this whole form in the first place.
However, as composers write more and more sonatas, they start to get a little experimental with things. We can give Beethoven the credit for starting this rule-breaking trend with the final movement of his third symphony. The coda he writes ends up going on for 15 minutes! It’s the equivalent of getting to the end of a superhero movie, watching the main character beat the bad guy, have a celebration, and then find out—PLOTTWIST—the bad guy is still alive and needs to be defeated again! It was an effective tool for making his material take on a larger than life quality. What he’s implicitly saying here is that his music cannot be constrained by convention. In order to truly find a solution to the puzzles he’s presented, he has to go beyond the known forms and into uncharted territory.
Sonata-Allegro form has been a cornerstone of music for 250 years, and all of the famous composers would have written very different music if this form hadn’t been in place. Understanding this form goes a long way to understanding the Western classical music tradition as a whole. This was just a very brief overview of what makes up a Sonata, and there are countless more aspects to the form and tradition that an interested learner could seek out.
As a way to apply your new knowledge of Sonata-Allegro from, check out this annotated video of the first movement of Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet played by our very own string teachers! Each section’s name will appear on the screen as it happens.
As a voice teacher, I believe all voice students should take piano lessons as well. Why? I’ll dive into specifics later, but for any music student, piano lessons offer a foundation for music that is difficult to find with other instruments – voice especially. There are unique benefits for singers learning the piano. Some of them may surprise you.
Unlike most other instruments, singers can learn their music without knowing how to read music. It’s easier to pick notes out of the air when the voice does not require pressing a certain key in order to find the pitch. Still, it is more difficult to learn a song without knowing how to read music.
Reading music will enhance your vocal abilities in a number of ways. It can help you to understand your range, and will certainly allow you to pursue more musical opportunities. Plus, your pitch accuracy will grow! Learning music by listening might mean you learn a note wrong because a singer sang it wrong on a recording. Learning notes by reading them and playing them on the piano will allow you to be much more self-sufficient and accurate.
Playing Your Exercises and Accompaniments
If nothing else, voice students should take piano lessons so they know how to play their own exercises. Sure, the internet offers a wide variety of pre-recorded exercises, but the voice is such a unique instrument, many singers need to be able to customize their exercises, especially in terms of range. Being able to play the piano will allow you to do this.
Furthermore, if you’re interested in accompanying yourself (or even becoming a music teacher one day), you’ll need to learn piano in order to do so. Some genres require different piano skills, such as understanding chord progressions. With the above said, make your goals clear when starting piano lessons.
Some students take music lessons just to enjoy themselves, and that’s great! Others, however, have longer reaching musical goals. If one of these goals includes studying music in college, for example, music schools expect all students to have a basic understanding of piano. If you don’t study piano in your younger years, a college will require you to take courses then. Might as well get ahead of the curve and start studying now!
If you do have big goals, being able to learn your own musical parts or accompany yourself will also save you time and effort when it comes to rehearsing with other musicians. A coach, for example, won’t have to teach you a song note by note. Or, if you have interest in becoming a singer-songwriter, knowing how to read music will also teach you how to write music down. Voice teachers do not require students to take piano lessons by and large, but all voice students should consider taking piano lessons if possible, no matter their goals. I have never heard a singer say they felt their piano studies did not help their vocal goals! I have, however, heard singers say they wish they began studying piano much earlier than they did. If you’re interested in piano lessons in addition to your voice lessons but are pressed for time or funds, there are solutions. See if you can’t balance out the two studies by scheduling shorter or alternating lessons, or get in touch with a music school to see what options you might have.
As summer approaches, many students and parents have questions about managing summer music lessons. These include questions about changing schedules, vacation time, and practicing expectations. While your teacher is the best person to talk to about specifics, we aim to address your more general questions, or to help you decide which questions to ask. We also want to show you how summer music lessons can serve as a special opportunity for you.
Communicate with your teacher about scheduling
The most efficient means of managing summer music lessons involves communicating with your teacher (or your child’s teacher). Need a different lesson time over the summer? Going on vacation? Music teachers anticipate all of this, but let them know sooner rather than later. Contact your teacher as soon as you make plans or need a change.
Communicate with our office about extended breaks
It’s especially important to let our office know if you plan on taking any extended breaks, such as for a whole month or for the whole summer. If you take an extended period of time off, we will remove you from our calendar moving forward. Please contact our office at the beginning of the Fall when you plan on starting up again. We can’t promise the same time/day that you had, but we’ll do our best to work with your schedule for the Fall!
The rules of lessons still apply
It’s easy to fall into a “summer mindset” with music lessons, not applying the same rigor to cancellations and practice sessions as you would during a school year. Don’t fall into this trap! Teachers expect just as much over the summer. Plus, your music teacher is still running a business over the summer, and needs to be treated as such.
Use this as an opportunity
Many students, especially kids, are so scheduled during the school year, it can be difficult to fully dedicate themselves to music lessons. Summer allows a little more flexibility. Use it as an opportunity to get ahead in your music lessons so you can reach your goals that much sooner.
A lot of students also hope to audition for top bands, orchestras, or choirs when they return to school. If your child brings focus and discipline to summer lessons, they’ll be ready for these auditions in the fall. This is particularly important if a student plans to pursue music further, such as in college.
In either instance, take note of your goals or your child’s goals, and what it would take to reach them. Then, you and your teacher can make a plan based on your freer summer schedule.
It’s tempting to think that once the recital is over, once classes are over, then lessons are over for the summer too, or at least are more relaxed. However, summer is a unique opportunity for renewed dedication. Flexibility, time, and focus have great benefits for you or your child, so take advantage of them! Above all else, remember that managing summer music lessons is not so different from managing regular lessons. Keep that mindset, and you’ll stay on the ball through vacations, schedule upheavals, and pool-worthy weather.
It’s recital season! For many students, that means it’ll be their first time performing in front of other people. Not only is it exciting, it’s a good learning opportunity. Your teacher will help you with the specifics of your situation. Still, there are a couple of universal things you may want to know ahead of time when preparing for your first recital.
Choose a Song and Practice Smart
Many students make the mistake of choosing a song they think will be popular or extra showy for their first recital. While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a popular or showy song, the point of a recital is to showcase what you have learned in your lessons so far. Choosing a song you’ve already been working on will serve you well. You’ll also want to make sure your song is challenging, but within your skill set. Remember, the recital first and foremost is for your development.
When you’re practicing, remember: up until now you’ve been able to give in to the luxury of stopping and starting in the middle of the song to play every note just right. We don’t have this option in performance though. Make sure you practice the spots that you have to stop and start at, then run through your song without stopping no matter what happens. Chances are you’ll run into less problems than you think. But even if something happens, the odds of the audience catching your mistakes are not as high as you think they are. So, if you keep going and act like your mix ups were intentional, your audience will be none the wiser.
Space, Equipment, and Accompaniment
Most studio recitals take place somewhere else other than your regular lesson room, and that’s a good thing! You learn better by performing in spaces unfamiliar to you. That means you’ll need to practice accordingly though. Try practicing in different rooms, or manipulating how well you hear yourself play by using earplugs or amplification (if possible). This will help your ears adjust to unfamiliar surroundings.
You will probably also have a microphone for the performance. If it’s not possible for you to practice with a microphone beforehand, practice with it in mind. Ask your teacher where you’ll want to place the microphone. Then, use household objects to mimic its placement so you can learn to play into it.
Finally, not every music student will use accompaniment (either through a pianist or a recorded backing track) for their first performance. However, if you plan to use it, be sure to practice with it at least a month before the performance. Coordinating your playing with another musician is a skill unto itself, and it should be treated as such.
Calm the Nerves
You may or may not experience stage fright (also known as performance anxiety), and if you’ve never performed live before, you may not even know if you have it. Know that a little anxiety before a performance is normal, and maybe even helpful. If you’re worried about excessive anxiety though, create a mock performance for yourself by playing in front of family and friends. You can also use deep breathing techniques to center yourself before playing. The more prepared you feel, the better you’ll feel about your performance. Preparing for your first recital, in short, entails knowing your music so well and feeling so comfortable that no matter what happens, all you have to do is get on stage and share the joy of music with your loved ones.
Signing up for your first guitar lesson can be exciting, but anything new can also make you nervous if you don’t know what to expect. So let us help you out: here, we’ll tell you a bit about what to bring to your first guitar lesson, what you might learn, and other things you can expect in your first guitar lesson.
What to Bring
The most important thing to bring to your first guitar lesson is yourself of course! However, we do recommend bringing a few extra items if you have them.
Guitar If you don’t already own a guitar, your new guitar teacher will offer you recommendations for what you might like to purchase. If you do have a guitar though, feel free to bring it! You shouldn’t need to bring an amp if you have an electric guitar, but if you’re not sure, you can ask your new teacher before your first lesson.
Picks, straps, or other gear Again, none of these are required, but if you have any extra portable guitar gear, might as well bring it along. As you’ll soon see, a teacher may show you how to properly use this equipment in your first lesson.
Questions Whether or not you have an instrument yet, these are easy to bring! Your teacher will want to know if you have any musical experience, and in turn, you’ll want to make sure the teacher is a good fit for you. To help you keep track of the answers to your questions, we recommend you bring a notebook and pencil as well.
An open mind It’s tempting to think you’ll walk out of your first lesson playing one of your dream songs, but any skill takes time to learn. Be prepared to be patient and to learn in ways you didn’t imagine. An open mind will also help you to have a more rewarding experience.
What You’ll Learn
There are a number of basic techniques you might learn in your first guitar lesson, and it will vary according to your teacher’s preferences and your needs. Many guitar teachers focus on posture first. This can include how to sit, how to hold the guitar by the neck, and how to properly strum, or hold your arms and hands to pick.
Your teacher will also tell you about the different parts of the guitar. This will include the names of each string, the fret, and other related terms. If you brought along any extra gear, they may show you how to use that as well.
Finally, depending on how much time you have, your teacher may also show you some basic chords or scales, or introduce the basics of how to read music.
At the end of your first lesson, your teacher will talk to you about how to sign up for future lessons and payment plans available to you. Your teacher should also let you know what they expect you to practice over the coming week.
The most important thing to remember is that your first guitar lesson lays the foundation for future lessons. The longer you take lessons, the more personalized they will be. Private guitar lessons, after all, are more unique and catered to your needs than say a book or a video. Again, if you come to your first lesson with an open mind and ready to learn, you’ll be rewarded with an enjoyable musical experience.
Calling all musicians! This year’s Spring Recital will be held on May 20th at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. All Philly Music Lessons students are encouraged to sign up for a slot at either of the two concert times.
Saturday, May 20th, 2017
Set 1 at 1:30pm
Set 2 at 3:00pm
Will you bring down the house with a brilliant rendition of your favorite song from Broadway, or shred through some classic rock? If you’re not sure what you’d like to do, your teacher can help you decide what to perform to best show off all of your progress. Not only do you get to perform yourself, but you also get the chance to support the rest of the Philly Music Lessons family in their own musical journey!
Show off your skills to friends and family alike right on Rittenhouse Square!
For those interested in learning to play the guitar who do not yet own an instrument, you might wonder whether you should by an electric or acoustic guitar. Each has its pros and cons, which is why a little research can go a long way. Let us help you make your purchase by pointing out some factors you might not have considered.
You probably already have a sense of whether you prefer an electric or an acoustic guitar. Many students come to music lessons wanting to play certain songs, and these songs usually require a particular instrument. Therefore, there’s logic to buying the guitar that interests you most. You’ll be able to learn the songs you want to learn on their “correct” instrument. Plus, you won’t have to purchase the type of guitar you “really” wanted later on.
All things being equal, some guitarists say that electric guitars are easier to play than acoustic ones. This is for two main reasons: first, the body of an electric guitar is smaller and therefore easier to hold, and second, the strings are lighter than on an acoustic guitar.
Some students may not agree with this. Electric guitars require an amp and cables, and the extra equipment may seem cumbersome. However, the ability to adjust the volume on an amp also means you can make more sound with less work.
Although electric guitars may be easier to play, they are also generally more expensive. Between amps, cords, headphones, and the instrument itself, the cost can add up. An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, only requires itself, and tends to cost less as a whole. While you may be able to find deals for instruments, above all else you’ll want an instrument that works well and sounds decent when you first start out.
This goes hand in hand with interest, but ask yourself, which guitar do I see myself practicing with? The goal of guitar lessons is to learn how to play the guitar and less about the performance of it (at least at first). Once you get into serious performing, you can always switch guitars if need be.
However, it’s worth knowing yourself and considering which type of guitar will better suit your learning needs. Will tough strings frustrate you? Do you live in an apartment and need to practice with headphones? Do you want your guitar to be portable? Answering these questions and similar ones, along with understanding the mechanics of learning an instrument (as opposed to how you see yourself performing an instrument) can help you decide which kind of guitar to purchase.
If you truly can’t decide, you could always rent an acoustic guitar and/or an electric guitar through our rental instrument program. It’s a rent-to-own program so if you make a decision as to which guitar you’d like to continue with after the first couple of months, a large majority of what you pay goes towards owning the instrument. A three month trial rental is always an affordable way to try out any instrument!
As you’ve figured out by now, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it comes down to what you want out of your musical experience. And if you still can’t decide but can’t afford to buy both, you could always ask your new guitar teacher what they recommend for you. The most important thing is that you make a decision so that you can spend more time learning and playing, and less time fretting over the decision.
Music Exploration is a 6 week class that allows children to discover a variety of musical instruments! Combining art projects with beginner concepts in music, kids can build a foundation for further learning in music. Within a group environment, social learning will open the door for private lessons later on as kids approach music from a collaborative angle. Read more about our class here!
Instrument Bodies and the Anatomy of Sound
Fundamental Concepts like Melody, Rhythm, & Music as a Language (Notes)
Physical Techniques for Strings and Piano
Examples of Past Art Projects Using Recyclables (materials included):
Marimbas (Finger Piano)
Pasta Note Necklaces with Mini Song Patterns
Students will use their homeade instruments to practice “In the Jungle”. Our music class will have the option to perform as a group at our Spring Recital at the Ethical Society on Saturday May 20th! We encourage you to come be a part of our show!
Students whose families participate in any of the programs at By My Side Parenting will receive a 10% discount for our Spring Session! This discount also applies to private lessons at home, at our main studio in Fishtown/East Kensington, or at our auxilliary space at By My Side.
Interesting fact: The flute is the third oldest instrument in the world, although it didn’t always look quite like the one we know today as the keys were added at the turn of the century. Still, a form of the flute has been around since before recorded language.
Why flute? This is a funny question—As a flute player myself, I sometimes think back to when I decided to play flute for the rest of my life: I was in 10th grade and driving home from a flute lesson with my mom when I had this overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t just stop playing flute. Obviously I had already been thinking about what I was going to do in college, but at that moment, the notion that I could stop playing music made me so sad that I knew I had to study flute for the rest of my life.
In orchestral music, we get to play all sorts of characters, from birds (composers love to portray birds with flute) to hope, wind, light, or mythical creatures, and that is barely scratching the surface! I had a wonderful teacher in college who pointed to my flute and said “this isn’t a flute.” I looked at him and thought, “Oh no, he thinks my flute is the silver equivalent to a plastic whistle. Or maybe, he’s just gone crazy” He pointed and said again “This isn’t a flute—it is the mist on a mountain top, it is the wind on a summer evening, it is rage, it is pure joy—this is whatever you make it.” Now on some level I knew that—people had been telling me from a reasonably young age that I was good at the musical stuff not written on the page, but never in my life had someone so clearly pointed out the possibilities of playing this instrument. What I love about flute and playing music using wind (or breath) as the mode of sound production is how expressive one can be while literally taking deep—and often calming breaths. I love the many colors one can find in the flute sound with careful study. Most of all I love playing all of the different characters. I love applying narrative to music, and I have the most fun when I’m playing a character with my flute.
As I think back even further to the events that led me to start the flute it all was so arbitrary: I went to Colonial Williamsburg with my family for a few days in the summer before my 5th grade year—I don’t know why I was intrigued so much by this fife I found in a shop, but I was and part of me wonders if I would be here today writing this article without that first seemingly nebulous push. This is just my story and when it comes down to brass tacks, every musician has his or her story. What we all have in common is the universal choice that we make. Every musician has made a choice to put in the careful hours and become what he or she is today. There is some turning point that presents an instrument to a person and then a choice that doesn’t seem at all like a choice but just something that you do. This might be yours for flute.
I don’t think I can ever say to someone “you should play flute because of ____.” There is never enough time and never language specific enough. Most students know flute is for them after listening to it. If they hear something that they like, I do my best to help them put what they like into words, and then we set off together after that sound. Playing flute is not the be all and end all for everyone, but for those who want to enrich their lives with a musical instrument—it is a great choice.